1957's "Night of the Demon" was shot in England by a Hollywood director (Jacques Tourneur), producer (Hal E. Chester, "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms"), and star (Dana Andrews). Emerging the same year that Hammer introduced color to their distinctive brand with "The Curse of Frankenstein," this was a serious take on witchcraft and black magic, in the understated Val Lewton style Tourneur became noted for on RKO pictures such as "Cat People," "I Walked with a Zombie," and "The Leopard Man." The screenplay was the work of Charles Bennett, an early collaborator of Alfred Hitchcock now working in tandem with Irwin Allen, quite the last truly exceptional piece with his name attached, owning the rights to M.R. James' original story "Casting the Runes," alternate titles "The Haunted" and "The Bewitched" (had it been made in Hollywood the lead could have been played by Robert Taylor or Dick Powell). Both writer and director were livid with Chester's changes to the final script, namely showing the demon in all its glory and fairly early on as well, but even so it remained a character driven piece building a sense of dread and inevitability for the one man who all his life scoffed at the supernatural, intentionally walking under ladders and such. Professor Henry Harrington (Maurice Denham), in a very agitated state, calls upon Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis) to prevent a dire appointment from taking place at 10:00, now choosing not to expose Karswell's circle of devil worshippers, and that he won't confide in professional skeptic John Holden (Dana Andrews) when he arrives from America. Karswell assures him there's nothing to worry about but it's too little, too late; we see a curious cloud form in the darkness, flapping sounds like that of a gigantic bat, the terrified Harrington backing out of his garage into a power line certain to be electrocuted, yet what remains of his corpse was mutilated to a much greater extent. John Holden learns of the sudden death, meeting Harrington's concerned niece Joanna (Peggy Cummins), and eager to expose a man he believes to be just another charlatan. A chance meeting in the library allows the unassuming Karswell to introduce himself, for the express purpose of ensuring that Holden meets the same fate as Harrington, passing on a small parchment with ancient runic symbols written on it, having deciphered their meaning to place a fatal hex upon his enemies. Once the paper is passed on to the victim without his knowledge and is reduced to ashes by any means, there is no escape from the demon's wrath, taking place in exactly three days. Holden calls upon Karswell at his sprawling estate, finding the portly mama's boy genuinely fond of children yet still a man filled with fear, demonstrating his powers by whipping up a sudden windstorm. His elderly mother (Athene Seyler) does what she can for the nonbeliever, but as time edges closer to the appointed hour it isn't long before Holden's grasp of reality is changed forever, particularly after a midnight visit leads to a terrifying encounter in the dark woods. The climax on the train was certainly worthy of Hitchcock, Joanna's presence under hypnosis, Karswell for obvious reasons reluctant to accept anything proffered by Holden, the unexpected intervention of Scotland Yard proving surprisingly helpful to our beleaguered protagonist. The stone face of Dana Andrews did not lend itself well to this particular role, but Niall MacGinnis was a fantastic actor who occasionally dabbled in the genre and often worked with Peter Cushing: "Hamlet," "Alexander the Great," "Sword of Sherwood Forest" (playing Friar Tuck opposite Richard Greene's Robin Hood and Cushing's Sheriff of Nottingham), "The Man Who Finally Died," "Island of Terror," and "Torture Garden," plus the episode "Jack the Ripper" for Boris Karloff's THE VEIL, "Tarzan's Greatest Adventure," Hammer's "Never Take Candy from a Stranger," "The Devil's Agent," (Christopher Lee), "Jason and the Argonauts," and Hammer's "The Viking Queen." His Julian Karswell isn't your average ordinary Satanist (James based the character on Aleister Crowley), a man who has earned his vast grounds and power through inflicting fear upon others, determined to maintain his status quietly without public exposure or risk being 'hoist with his own petard.' He's clearly the film's villain yet he started out as a magician using white magic for children, passing out candy and puppies from his hat, and his mother is especially gratified to help on these occasions; but once he translates the ancient runic symbols he proves just as terrified with the evils unleashed as his enemies. Among the few occult classics that popped up the only other comparable entries are 1962's "Night of the Eagle," a similar tale centered on another noted skeptic, and Hammer's 1967 adaptation of Dennis Wheatley's "The Devil Rides Out," Christopher Lee the hero, Charles Gray the villain.
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